February 2012

‘Worthy of the calling’ focus of Embrace leadership event

February 27 2012 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

After visiting more than 30 countries, earning a master’s degree and serving as a Journeyman missionary, Alicia Wong planned to become a career missionary with IMB (International Mission Board).
 
Instead, she found herself serving with the North American Mission Board and then teaching at a seminary. Although that was not what she expected, “missions has always been the thread that has run through my life,” Wong said.
 
Wong accepted that God called her to give her life to missions, and while that call has looked different during different seasons of her life, God has faithfully prepared the way for her to live out this calling.
 
“God called us and He created us with a purpose in mind. It’s important for us to live out our calling. He has a specific task for us to do and it varies from season to season,” she said.

Wong, assistant professor of women’s ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the featured speaker for the April 20-21 Embrace Leadership Training event at Woodlawn Baptist Church in Conover.
 
Speaking to the event theme “Worthy of the Calling,” based on Ephesians 4:1-3, Wong will share with women that they each have a calling from God, no matter their age or occupation. She will also help them understand who they are in Christ.
 
“Our worth is found in who God is. If we base it on who we are and what we’ve done, it’s pointless. Because of who He is and what He’s done, we are worthy,” Wong said.
 
The leadership event is for all women serving in leadership roles in their churches and associations in areas such as evangelism, discipleship, missions and leadership.
 
Along with plenary sessions, women will learn through breakout sessions, hands-on community mission projects, and a special prayer tea to help women learn to pray for lost people throughout the world.
 
This year’s prayer tea includes a special focus on Central Asian peoples.Women will pray for lost people in Central Asian countries such as Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. In Central Asia, Islam is the primary religious influence.
 
Breakout sessions provide women with practical ministry and life applications on various topics.
 
“For the event this year we are offering a dual track. There are breakouts specially designed for those who are just starting Embrace or are looking to start Embrace in their church,” said Ashley Allen, director of Embrace.
 
“For those who have Embrace in their church or who have already attended a leadership training, there are new breakout opportunities to enhance what they are doing.”
 
The cost to attend is $45 if registered by the March 2 early bird deadline. After the early bird deadline the cost is $60 per participant; deadline to register is April 5.
 
To register or for more information, visit embracenc.org.
2/27/2012 1:29:04 PM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



College students challenged to risk it all for gospel

February 27 2012 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

Scripture makes it clear that faithful followers of Jesus Christ will encounter risks and experience trials. Some may experience rejection from family and friends, while others experience physical persecution for taking a stand for the gospel.
 
Despite social and physical risks, a greater risk to Christ-followers is the risk of doing nothing. 
 
George Robinson, assistant professor for missions and evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, led a breakout session during the recent 20/20 “The Scriptures Come to Life” Collegiate Conference in which he challenged students to take great risks for the sake of the gospel.
 
“The way you go through this life without wasting it, whether you die of old age or as a martyr, is when you have risked it all for the sake of the gospel,” he said.
 
“What stands between that reality right now is all the unengaged people groups of the world.”
 
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BSC photo by Buddy Overman

George Robinson, assistant professor for missions and evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, leads a breakout session Feb. 4 on “How does the Bible challenge us to risk by taking the gospel to the nations?”

During his presentation, Robinson said the more than 6,000 unreached people groups worldwide are evidence that many risks stand between followers of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
 
A people group is considered unreached when evangelical Christians comprise less than two percent of the population. However, Robinson said more than 3,000 of the unreached people groups are also unengaged, meaning there is no church planting strategy among them. Many unreached and unengaged people groups live in countries where cultural, religious and government obstacles pose significant challenges to Kingdom work.
 
These unreached and unengaged people groups are the last frontier of missions, Robinson said. “The last frontier in missions is marked with tremendous obstacles and tremendous challenges,” he said.
 
Scripture speaks of a time when people from every tribe and nation will assemble at the feet of Jesus and worship Him. Yet, that will not become a reality until more Christians engage in frontier missions.

‘Made to risk it all’
One common objection to international missions is the great number of lost people in North America. There is indeed a tremendous need to reach the lost in North America, and not everyone is called to foreign missions, Robinson said.
 
However, he reminded the students that the majority of North Americans have access to the gospel, and that is not the case for the 2.8 billion people worldwide who have no one to tell them about Jesus. Believers should follow the example of the apostle Paul who, despite being among untold numbers of unsaved people, spoke of having no more room to work in the regions where he had already planted churches, Robinson said.
 
“It’s not like Paul couldn’t have walked down the street and shared the gospel with somebody,” Robinson said. “When Paul is saying there is no more room for him to work in those regions he was referring to the fact that there was already a church established in that location.” 
 
Paul’s desire was for churches to multiply and reach people in their local areas with the understanding that they would prioritize the equipping and sending of frontier missionaries from their congregations, Robinson said. Likewise, he said churches today should make the equipping and sending of international missionaries a priority. Robinson challenged students to place their trust in Christ’s authority in pursuit of their high calling to reach the world with the gospel. 
 
“You were made to risk it all and rest in the security that Jesus Christ alone can provide you,” Robinson said. “The real risk is that you go through life living for yourself and get to the end only to find out that you’ve wasted it on what wasn’t eternal.”

Related story
'Scriptures Come to Life' during 20/20 conference
2/27/2012 1:21:43 PM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Iran pastor facing execution any day, but supporters still hopeful

February 24 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The White House Thursday increased the international pressure on Iran to release a Christian pastor sentenced to death, as several reports seemed to confirm his execution order had been issued.
 
The pastor, Yousef (also spelled Youcef) Nadarkhani, was sentenced to death in 2010 for converting from Islam to Christian in a case that began in 2009.

The statement from the Obama administration is its strongest yet from the White House in Nadarkhani’s case.

“The United States stands in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and all those who seek to practice their religion without fear of persecution – a fundamental and universal human right,” the statement read. “The trial and sentencing process for Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates the Iranian government’s total disregard for religious freedom, and further demonstrates Iran’s continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. The United States calls upon the Iranian authorities to immediately lift the sentence, release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.”

The statement also urged other nations to join in pressuring Iran, saying, “The United States renews its calls for people of conscience and governments around the world to reach out to Iranian authorities and demand Pastor Nadarkhani’s immediate release.” The U.S. State Department released a similar statement.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) was the first organization Feb. 21 to warn of Nadarkhani’s possible death order, quoting its sources as saying an order “may have been issued.” On Feb. 22 a FoxNews.com report went a step further, removing any question and saying the order had been handed down. On Thursday, ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow told Baptist Press that the secrecy of the Iranian regime prevents anything definite from being known, although ACLJ sources in Iran say the execution order has been issued.

Many times, Sekulow said, something is not known as definitive “until you get the body.” In Iran, “they don’t have to notify the family. They don’t have to notify anybody” about a pending execution.
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Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani


“I haven’t given up hope,” Sekulow said. “There are countries that can speak out – not just our own government and not just Europe. The regime needs to know that we know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re not going to get away doing it without us telling the world.”

The Iranian system is different from those in the West, Sekulow said, because international pressure can make a difference and cause Iranian officials to change course.

“We’re at that point again,” Sekulow said.

A positive outcome to the current crisis, Sekulow said, would be for an Iranian news service to report that Nadarkhani is alive and is not near execution.

“I would love to be told that we’re all liars,” Sekulow said. “That’s fine. Because if he’s still alive – that’s our goal.”

Sekulow added, “It’s not over.”

ACLJ has launched a “Tweet for Youcef” program to spread the news about the pastor around the world. So far, more than 420,000 Twitter accounts have been reached, touching 162 countries. (Learn more at http://aclj.org/Nadarkhani).

The case began in 2009 when Nadarkhani was arrested after complaining that his son was being taught Islam in school. He eventually was sentenced to death by the court of appeals.
 
In 2011 the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence but ordered a lower court to examine whether Nadarkhani was ever a Muslim – a fact essential to determine whether he left Islam for Christianity. But that lower court in Rasht, Iran, found that although Nadarkhani was never a practicing Muslim he remained guilty of apostasy because he had Muslim ancestry.

In September, he was given four chances to recant his faith in court and refused each time. His case then was referred to the ayatollah. The American Center for Law and Justice reported one of his court exchanges.

“Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?” Nadarkhani asked.

“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the judge reportedly replied.

“I cannot,” the pastor responded.

Following is the White House’s full statement:

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms reports that Iranian authorities’ reaffirmed a death sentence for Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for the sole reason of his refusal to recant his Christian faith. This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values. The United States stands in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and all those who seek to practice their religion without fear of persecution – a fundamental and universal human right. The trial and sentencing process for Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates the Iranian government’s total disregard for religious freedom, and further demonstrates Iran’s continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. The United States calls upon the Iranian authorities to immediately lift the sentence, release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion. The United States renews its calls for people of conscience and governments around the world to reach out to Iranian authorities and demand Pastor Nadarkhani’s immediate release.”

Related story

Report: Iran may be set to execute pastor
2/24/2012 1:22:05 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



State execs form NAMB study committee

February 24 2012 by Tim Yarbrough, Baptist Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – State convention executive directors have appointed a special committee to evaluate relations with the North America Mission Board (NAMB).

The action came during the Fellowship of State Executive Directors annual meeting, Feb. 13-16 in Scottsdale, Ariz. State executive directors meet each year for fellowship and to discuss issues related to Baptist state convention work.

The name of the state executives’ special committee is “A Study Committee on Implementation of NAMB Initiatives with State Conventions.”

Emil Turner, executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and president of the fellowship for 2011-12, said the committee was established “to evaluate how state conventions and NAMB can maximize cooperation during the transition process of implementing the new NAMB initiatives.”

Announced in 2011, NAMB’s Send North America strategy focuses heavily on church planting and shifting funds to the field for church planting.

Members of the committee are David Hankins, chairman, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention; Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma; Cecil Seagle, executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana; Mark Edlund, executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention; Bob Mills, executive director of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists; and Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

Some state convention leaders have expressed concerns about what their relationships with NAMB will look like as historic “cooperative agreements” are replaced with new “strategic partnerships” with state conventions. The Southern Baptist entity has used cooperative agreements with states to support and define its work and to assist in the furtherance of domestic mission work.

Turner said the study committee is important to evaluating and understanding the future work of state conventions with NAMB.

“I think this study committee can help get beyond anecdotal reports about difficulties that new work conventions face and arrive at quantifiable conclusions,” Turner said. “The desire is to cooperate with NAMB in a way that helps strengthen new work conventions.”

Turner added, “Executive directors in all the state conventions have appreciated the spirit evidenced by Dr. (Kevin) Ezell (president of NAMB) as he has worked with us. This should be a positive and productive process that strengthens our work together.”

Following the establishment of the committee, Turner said he contacted Ezell to reassure him the action “is not to be or do anything adversarial, but to seek understanding and cooperation.”

It is the desire of the state executive directors’ group that NAMB trustees be involved in discussions as well, Turner said.

“The focus of our concern is the cooperation of NAMB and state conventions,” Turner told Ezell. “I believe this will be a good thing and expect it to proceed in a friendly and collaborative manner. Thank you for your hard work for the SBC and for the Kingdom.”

Mike Ebert, NAMB’s vice president of communications, said it is NAMB’s “desire to be good partners with our state conventions,” adding, “[We] are always open to anything that would move us toward penetrating lostness in North America. We are ultimately accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention through the NAMB trustees, and we are confident in the direction in which we are moving.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Yarbrough is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.)
2/24/2012 1:20:35 PM by Tim Yarbrough, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Jamie Grace among Dove Awards nominees

February 24 2012 by Baptist Press

ATLANTA – Nineteen-year-old Grammy nominee Jamie Grace became one to watch at the upcoming 43rd annual Dove Awards.

Winners of this year’s awards, which honor Christian music’s top artists, will be announced April 19 at Atlanta’s Fox Theater.
 
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In the Feb. 22 announcement of nominees, Grace was listed for new artist of the year, song of the year for “Hold Me” and pop/contemporary album of the year for “One Step at a Time.” Hold Me also was nominated for a Grammy this year for best contemporary Christian song of the year.

“This is an event that has a history of bringing together people who are not only giving us a new favorite song to sing but who are anointed with a heavenly message,” Jackie Patillo, executive director of the Gospel Music Association, said of the Dove Awards.

Following is a list of nominees for some of the top awards:

SONG OF THE YEAR: “Hold Me” (Jamie Grace), “Alive” (Natalie Grant), “Blessings” (Laura Story), “Celebrate Me Home” (Perrys), “Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)” (Casting Crowns), “I Smile” (Kirk Franklin), “I’ve Been Here Before” (Ernie Haase & Signature Sound), “Please Forgive Me” (Gaither Vocal Band), “Who Am I” (Jason Crabb), “Your Great Name” (Natalie Grant).

MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Chris August, Chris Tomlin, Jason Crabb, Kirk Franklin, Steven Curtis Chapman.

FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Francesca Battistelli, Kari Jobe, Laura Story, Mandisa, Natalie Grant.

GROUP OF THE YEAR: Casting Crowns, David Crowder Band, Gaither Vocal Band, NEEDTOBREATHE, The Isaacs.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Jason Crabb, Laura Story, LeCrae, The Isaacs.

NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Jamie Grace, Beyond The Ashes, Dara Maclean, Royal Tailor, The City Harmonic.
2/24/2012 1:17:32 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Sharing Christ in India’s fastest-growing city

February 24 2012 by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press

ADMEDABAD, India – Social, political and religious barriers make sharing the gospel difficult in Admedabad, the fastest-growing city in India and third fastest-growing in the world, as ranked by Forbes magazine in 2010.
 
Once known as the textile capital of India, Ahmedabad’s businesses have expanded to finance, information technology, education, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, making it the hub for trade, commerce and culture in east-central India’s Gujarat state.

Ahmedabad’s population was approximately 4 million at the time of the last census in 2001. Lloyd Kinder*, an International Mission Board (IMB) worker since 1991 who has served in Ahmedabad the past six years, estimates that it is now closer to 7 million, with Hindus comprising about 80 percent of the population, Muslims 19 percent and other religions 1 percent.
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Crowded streets like this are common in Ahmedabad, India, where social and religious barriers – as well as anti-conversion laws – make sharing the gospel difficult in the nation’s fastest-growing city.


An anti-conversion law in Gujarat state outlaws bribing, tricking or coercing people into another religion, and anyone suspected of converting others could face jail time. Any individual who changes religions, meanwhile, must inform the government and be investigated.

Such threats, however, don’t deter Kinder and his wife Roberta* from teaching local Christians how to share their faith in what the IMB workers regard as a city in need of special attention and prayer.

There’s not much room for other religions under the anti-conversion law, especially when combined with deeply ingrained cultural pressures. Kinder tells story after story of people coming to faith in Jesus but being too afraid to be baptized for fear of their families finding out.

“It’s not so much the Hinduism as much as it is the tradition,” he explains. “No one’s willing to break out of the family traditions. If they do, that means that not only do they lose their family but they lose their identity.”

The Hindu religion influences all aspects of life, from whom they will marry to what their occupations will be. For those who embrace faith in Christ, their family most likely will disown them and cut off all resources. Kinder admits it’s a hard choice: Christianity or family.

“It’s quite common to hear the statement, ‘I can’t come to Christ while my parents are still alive,’” Kinder says. “Many of them will wait until their parents are dead and then they’ll make public their commitment to Christ.”

Kinder teaches local believers the basics of personal evangelism so they can spread the Gospel whenever possible. “We’re training [people of all ages] how to share their faith, how to share just a prayer or tract – anything that gets the name of Jesus out in front of people,” he says.

Lloyd sometimes is limited in where he can travel in Ahmedabad. Tourists or foreigners are not common in the city, so people are usually suspicious of him. However, an Indian believer goes into areas he can’t.

Large groups cannot gather to hear the gospel, meanwhile, or have a worship service because it would arouse government suspicion. So, Kinder and his Indian partners focus on face-to-face contact. That’s why he says Baptist volunteers are important for spreading the gospel in the city. Their trips to join his team for a week or more help them meet more people.

“We can only face so many people every day, so whenever we have a volunteer come, that’s one more face that we can add to our team that we’re able to encounter and have a positive effect and plant a seed in their life,” Kinder says.

“... Our team’s goal is that every person, whenever they stand before God, no one should say, ‘I never heard about Jesus Christ,’” Kinder says.

Despite the strongholds and challenges, the people of Ahmedabad must have the chance to hear the gospel.

“It’s God’s task to save them,” Kinder says, “but it’s our task to do the telling.”

Prayer for Ahmedabad
– Pray that the people of Ahmedabad will have the chance to hear and respond to the gospel.

– Pray that they can overcome the fear and the strongholds of their culture and encounter the love of Jesus Christ.

– Pray for good spiritual and physical health for Lloyd and Roberta Kinder and their family as they continue their outreach in the city.

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding is a former International Mission Board intern. Workers like Lloyd and Robert Kinder rely on Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention to provide for their ministries in India.)
2/24/2012 1:10:31 PM by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Prop 8 supporters appeal to full 9th circuit

February 23 2012 by Baptist Press

SAN FRANCISCO – Bypassing the Supreme Court for the moment, supporters of California Prop 8 are appealing a ruling that went against them to the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The decision gives ProtectMarriage.com two opportunities, instead of one, to see the Feb. 7 decision reversed. In that ruling, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit struck down Prop 8, although it said its ruling was “narrow” and applied only to California and not to other states. If the Supreme Court had refused to hear the case, it would have been the end of the legal road. Prop 8 is a voter-approved constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

The petition was filed Feb. 21.
 
“After careful consideration, we determined that asking for reconsideration by the full Ninth Circuit is in the best interests of defending Prop 8,” said Andy Pugno, an attorney representing ProtectMarriage.com. “This gives the entire Ninth Circuit a chance to correct this anomalous decision by just two judges overturning the vote of seven million Californians.”

The panel’s decision was a 2-1 split. Although the Ninth Circuit often is considered the country’s most liberal appeals court, its rules regarding full “en banc” reviews could end up benefiting Prop 8 supporters. If a majority of the court’s 25 judges agree to hear the case, it will be assigned to the chief judge and 10 randomly selected judges, the Associated Press reported. Supporters hope that panel would include the court’s more conservative judges.

“The majority opinion by the smaller panel conflicts with every state and federal appellate court decision – including binding decisions of the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit itself – that has upheld the traditional marriage laws under the federal Constitution as rationally related to the state’s interest in responsible procreation and child-rearing,” Pugno said.

In their petition to the court, Prop 8 supporters said the Ninth Circuit panel was wrong to rule that the “sole purpose” of Prop 8 was to declare the “lesser worth” of gays and to “dishonor a disfavored group.”

“Do President Obama and a host of other prominent champions of equal rights for gays and lesbians support the traditional definition of marriage solely to disapprove of gays and lesbians as a class and to dishonor same-sex couples as a people?” Prop 8 attorneys asked in their petition. “The reality is simply that ‘[t]here are millions of Americans,’ as one of the Plaintiffs’ own expert witnesses has acknowledged, ‘who believe in equal rights for gays and lesbians ... but who draw the line at marriage.’”

California and other states, the petition said, have a legitimate reason to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

“Through the institution of marriage, societies seek to increase the likelihood that children will be born and raised in stable and enduring family units by both the mothers and the fathers who brought them into this world,” the petition said. “... By reserving the name ‘marriage’ to committed opposite-sex couples, Proposition 8 provides special promotion, encouragement, and support to those relationships most likely to further society’s vital interest in responsible procreation and childrearing.”

Read the full petition at http://1.usa.gov/AmojQr.

Related story

'Narrow' ruling? Court strikes down Prop 8
2/23/2012 1:42:21 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Q&A: A first-century fragment of Mark found?

February 23 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST – Much of the biblical scholarly world has been buzzing since Feb. 1, when a New Testament professor made a claim during a debate that was news to most everyone who heard it – a first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel may have been found.

It would be the earliest-known fragment of the New Testament, placing it in the very century of Christ and the apostles.
 
The claim by Dallas Theological Seminary’s Daniel B. Wallace took place during a debate with University of North Carolina professor Bart Ehrman, an author whose popular books claim the New Testament cannot be trusted because the original manuscripts aren’t in existence.

The Mark fragment has yet to be made public, but Wallace provided a few more details on his website, saying information about the fragment would be published in the form of a book in “about a year.”

“It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers,” Wallace wrote. “He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century.”
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But if it is true that a first-century fragment has been found, it would be big news both in the scholarly world and in the larger Christian world.

Baptist Press (BP) asked Andreas Köstenberger, senior professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological in Wake Forest, to explain the significance of a possible first-century Mark fragment. Köstenberger attended the Wallace-Ehrman debate.

BP: If there is a first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark, what is the significance?

KOSTENBERGER: Currently, the earliest known available Gospel fragment is p52 (the John Rylands papyrus), which contains portions of John 18 and dates to around A.D. 125. So any find that gets us a quarter-century or so closer to the time the original Gospels were written would be highly significant, even sensational. Of course, in part the significance of the discovery depends on the size of the fragment, not to mention the verification of the date. There have been previous reports of discoveries of early Mark or other Gospel manuscripts that did not check out at closer scrutiny, so it is certainly appropriate to maintain scholarly caution until the full data are known and available to public scrutiny. For example, some scholars got burned when they prematurely accepted so-called “Secret Mark,” which turned out to be a forgery (see Stephen Carlson’s “The Gospel Hoax”).

BP: Any guess as to why an announcement is being held back? Why the secrecy?

KOSTENBERGER: Apparently, the publisher is E.J. Brill, one of the world’s leading publishers of high-quality academic work. Presumably, the volume, when it appears approximately one year from now, will contain not only the first-century fragment of Mark but several other early manuscripts that have been found (though not dating to the first century). The Brill volume will no doubt contain all the technical details as to verification of the date, circumstances of the find, and an assessment of its significance. It makes sense for the details of the find to be withheld until the publication of the volume so that this data can be fully vetted by the scholarly community at that time. Doubtless there will be skeptics who, recognizing the potential significance of the discovery, will attempt to challenge the authenticity and/or date of the fragment.

BP: Some readers may be wondering: If we don’t have the original copy of Mark’s Gospel, how can we trust that what we have is what Mark wrote?

KOSTENBERGER: The fact is that the earliest manuscripts of all or parts of Mark that we do have show remarkable consistency and stability. And none of the minor variations between different manuscripts affect any major doctrine of Christianity at all. Of course, there is no way to prove positively one way or another what might have happened during the period between the original writing of Mark and the first available copies. Knowing what we do know about the care with which ancient Jews as well as early Christians took to preserve the original wording of what they believed to be authoritative and sacred writings – in fact, the very words of God – inspires a high degree of confidence. First the apostles, and then those after them carefully guarded the reliability of the eyewitness testimony to Jesus contained in the four canonical Gospels.
2/23/2012 1:37:32 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



In Iran, government halts Farsi worship

February 23 2012 by Damaris Kremida, Compass Direct News

ISTANBUL, Turkey (BP) – Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has ordered the last two officially registered churches holding Friday Farsi-language services in Tehran to discontinue them.

Emmanuel Protestant Church and St. Peter’s Evangelical Church were the last two official churches offering services on Fridays in Tehran in Iran’s primary language, according to Middle East Concern (MEC). Officials issued the order on Feb. 10.
 
Emmanuel and St. Peter’s, both Presbyterian churches, are among Tehran’s few registered churches that mainly serve the Armenian and Assyrian communities. The churches’ Armenian- and Assyrian- language services are typically held on Sundays.

In 2009, authorities had ordered an Assemblies of God congregation, Central Church of Tehran, to close its multiple Friday Farsi services. Friday services in Tehran attracted converts to Christianity as well as Muslims interested in Christianity, as Friday is most Iranians’ day off during the week. Authorities told the churches they can hold the services on Sunday, a working day when most Iranians are not able to attend.

“This decision means that there are now no Farsi-language services on Fridays in any officially registered church in Tehran,” Middle East Concern (MEC) stated in a mid-February report.

An Iranian Christian who requested anonymity told Compass Direct News that government officials cannot stop the three churches from operating because they belong to minority groups. But, the source said, officials are doing what they can to limit both the churches and the spread of Christianity to Farsi speakers.

“Authorities want church operations to stop, but because these churches are established by Armenians and Assyrians and their leaders are Armenian and Assyrian, they can’t stop them,” the source said, “but they can stop the Farsi-speaking services.”

The source said the restrictions have cut attendance at Emmauel and St. Peter’s by half.

The MEC report stated that “the order to stop Farsi services is consistent with the authorities’ policy of restricting Christian activities to these traditional communities,” indicating that Tehran is determined to eradicate access to Christian worship for the country’s growing number of Christian converts.

Authorities have prohibited musical worship and Bible distribution at the Central Church of Tehran, the largest and most visible Assemblies of God congregation in the country. Last December, officials also enforced a policy under which only invited guests could attend Central Church’s Christmas service.

Authorities recently have pressured leaders of Emmanuel and St. Peter’s to turn over the national identity numbers of Christians, the Iranian Christian source said. As a result, many Christians from these churches as well as Central Church have lost their jobs.

“We have some people who were fired from their jobs,” the Christian said. “The authorities pushed the bosses to fire their Christian employees.”

The source explained that this is a new tactic by the government to discourage Iranians from becoming Christians and to deter Christians from being involved in church.

“‘If I have too many difficulties in my life, I won’t have time to be involved in church, and people will see how difficult it is to be a Christian,’” the source said of the government’s pressure. “This is not a good face for the Christians. The others see and say, ‘Oh, they became Christians and God stopped His blessing to them.’”

Most Iranian Christian converts attend underground house churches that belong to various networks. For their own protection, these Christians often do not know about other house church networks.

Authorities often detain, question and apply pressure on converts from Islam, viewing them as elements of Western propaganda set against the Iranian regime. As a result, the converts are forced to worship in secret.

Also in mid-February, news surfaced of the arrest in Tehran of an Assemblies of God (AOG) leader, Masis Moussian of the Narmak AOG church. Mohabat News reported that his arrest was a result of “waves of anti-Christian pressures and distribution of unsubstantiated reports by regime-supported media regarding the AOG churches of Iran.” According to these reports, members of the AOG church in Tehran are “extreme Christians” trying to recruit new members, and particularly youth, across the country.

Moussian is being held at the Rajaei-Shahr prison and is not allowed visitors. His family has not been able to obtain information on his condition in prison.

On Feb. 8, authorities also arrested about 10 Christians who had gathered for worship at a house in the southern city of Shiraz. A report by Mohabat News stated that authorities mistreated the Christians in attendance and searched the house, confiscating Bibles. The Christians still remain in an unknown location.

The new report identified two women, three men and a teenager by their first names. Another was identified as Mojtaba Hosseini. Authorities had arrested Hosseini in 2008 along with eight other Christian converts on charges of being Christians, according to Mohabat.

Among those being detained is a 17-year-old boy named Nima, along with his mother, Fariba, and father, Homayoun. Another woman was identified as Sharifeh, and two men were identified as Kourosh and Masoud. Authorities searched the homes of those arrested and seized CDs, Bibles, Christian materials, computers, fax machines and satellite receivers, according to Mohabat.

Iran applies sharia (Islamic law), which dictates that converts from Islam to other religions are “apostates” who can be punished by death. Although judges rarely sentence Christians to death for leaving Islam, one Christian, Yousef (also spelled Youcef) Nadarkhani, is appealing such a decision in the northeastern city of Rasht.

Nadarkhani has been in prison since October 2009. A Rasht court found him guilty of leaving Islam and handed him the death sentence in September 2010. Remaining in prison also are Farshid Fathi in Tehran; Farhad Sabokroh, Naser Zamen-Defzuli, Davoud Alijani and Noorollah Qabitizade in Ahwaz; and Fariborz Arazm and Behnam Irani in Karaj.

There are an estimated 350,000 Christian converts from Islam in Iran. “I believe 100 percent the whole movement in Iran is in God’s hand,” the Christian source told Compass. “This pushing [of the government] can stop the church buildings but they cannot stop the Kingdom of God.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Damaris Kremida is a writer for Compass Direct News. Based in Santa Ana, Calif., Compass focuses on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith.)
2/23/2012 1:33:36 PM by Damaris Kremida, Compass Direct News | with 0 comments



Spirit world yields to God’s power in Southeast Asia

February 23 2012 by Shiloh Lane, Baptist Press

SOUTHEAST ASIA – Most instruments need musicians to play them. But others, as two Christian workers once learned, don’t need any humans at all.
 
David and Regan York*, nine years ago, moved with their two children to a Southeast Asian city rich in artistic culture. The city itself looks like artwork, with buildings adorned in murals and graffiti paintings, but residents especially prize the complex melodies of their traditional music.
 
York, who holds advanced degrees in music, planned to use his knowledge to create opportunities for sharing the gospel. But when the Yorks purchased a number of instruments – bronze kettles, gongs and slabs set in beautifully carved wood – they experienced firsthand the spiritual world connected to the culture’s artistic expression.

Not long after moving into their Asian home, the couple placed the purchases in their living room. Then, one night after the family had gone to bed, one of the instruments began to play itself.

“We thought ... ‘Maybe I was still half asleep – maybe a million things,” Regan said. “‘Maybe it’s some other instrument that somebody else has in a neighborhood that’s close by. Maybe it’s not ours.’”

David and Regan didn’t talk to each other about the music, each thinking that the other might not have heard it. Yet the same song played night after night. David got out of bed, checked the house and locked all the doors. No one had entered but he could see the bronze slabs still vibrating from the music.
02-23-12music.jpg

A young boy plays an instrument indigenous to his Southeast Asian culture. Once a week, David York* holds children’s music classes in his home, paying an instructor to teach the music and letting local kids play his personal collection of instruments.


After several nights of worry, the Yorks finally admitted to each other they heard the song. They also admitted the only thing that could cause an instrument to play without a musician was spiritual warfare. When local craftsman make instruments, the couple soon discovered, the men fast and pray over their work, asking spirits to inhabit and enhance the instruments’ sound.

The couple stayed calm at first, but when Regan learned that Esther*, their oldest child, could hear the song as well, she began to fear for her family.

“I remember praying and telling God, ‘This is scaring me to death,’” Regan said. “‘I have no idea what’s going on and I have no idea how to make it stop. ... We live all alone where we are, and I have children. I don’t want these things scaring my children.’”

Though David tried to comfort his wife, he simply felt baffled. Self-playing bronze slabs did not fit into his worldview.
 
“My theology didn’t allow for a lot of this,” he said. “I basically thought it was impossible for demonic forces to actually [dwell] in inanimate objects, or I guess I never thought it was possible for them to hold sway or influence people through objects like this. But once we came to the field, we realized this is a reality.”

Faced with spiritual forces in their own living room, the Yorks had no recourse other than prayer. The couple knelt before the Lord together and dedicated the instruments to God.

“These are Yours,” they prayed. “Do what You would do to defend Your own property. If this really belongs to You, then we trust that You will just clean house with it. And anything that we use it for will be for Your glory. This is not ours. It’s Yours.”

After the prayer, the instruments never played by themselves again.

David and Regan believed they had made a breakthrough. They hoped to use the story to show the power of God over the spirit world and lead people to freedom and security in Christ.

The couple’s local friends and neighbors, however, didn’t find the tale very compelling. In a world where spirits always vie for power, they believed God had simply conquered one individual demon, but in another battle, the results could change.

In fact, some villagers grew angry, believing the couple had neglected to take care of their possessions by casting out a spirit that had supposedly blessed the music. A few days after the exorcism, the Yorks’ house helper confronted Regan.

“Your instruments are bad now,” the woman told her. “There’s nothing special about them. They used to play by themselves before, but now they don’t play. What did you do?”

Regan explained that she and her husband did not have the instruments made for a spirit they didn’t know. They dedicated the instruments to the God they worshipped so that no other spiritual being could take possession of them.

The helper didn’t listen, continuing to believe the Yorks had foolishly ruined a treasure. The couple found themselves with a unique tale of God’s power that convinced no one to follow Christ. Then David realized they didn’t need a new story of the Lord’s awesome works. Neither ghost stories nor even His work through traditional music could replace the testimony of Christ’s death.

“The most powerful, effective witness isn’t through this grand, creative strategy where we’re using traditional music, where we’re doing power encounters, where we’re doing prayer strategies,” David said. “... [T]hose things have their place – but the most effective witness is just someone willing to sit down face-to-face with a lost person and explain to them the love of God expressed in the person of Jesus Christ.”

While David realigned his thoughts on ministry, Regan thanked God with relief. The Lord had saved her family during one of her darkest moments. Though she feared for her children, God protected them. Regan says she will always remember this spiritual encounter as an example of His strength and love.

Since the instrument stopped playing, the Yorks have had several other encounters with the spirit world, but the family grows bolder with each encounter. They know that God holds power over demons and that He has never failed to protect them. When faced with spiritual warfare, they only need to ask and the Lord will cast out whatever spirit scared them.

“[The experience] makes us feel secure, not because we are in control or because we know the formula to follow in case something happens,” Regan said, “but it makes us feel that we have a God who really is more powerful than [spirits] and we don’t have to be afraid.”

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shiloh Lane served with the International Mission Board in Southeast Asia for two years. For more stories about this ministry and others in Asia, visit http://www.asiastories.com.)


2/23/2012 1:24:48 PM by Shiloh Lane, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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